Through words and images, this portrait series explores the impact of creativity and the arts on aging, specifically highlighting individuals over the age of 65 currently engaging in one or more forms of creative expression. Rather than focussing on the creative output of these artists and creators,  The Lens of Age casts its gaze on the faces of the artists themselves, celebrating the supremacy and intimacy of the portrait, as well as its ability to reflect – and elevate – the human spirit.

Presented at the 12th International Conference on the Arts in Society, The American University of Paris, France, 14–16 June 2017 

image plus text 0003 Corrine Levy

The initial study participants consisted of 25 Social Work undergraduates enrolled at CUNY’s Lehman College located in the Bronx, NY. they were paired with 25 adults over 65. Data collection consisted of interviews, with key points documented in photographs. Students exhibited results in local venues, extending the reach of their work in an advocacy action. A mixed-methods pre- and post-test captured student reflections and reactions. Study findings indicate that arts-based participatory research can contribute to decreasing depression and isolation by promoting intergenerational relationships, reducing workforce shortages and fears about ones own future by improving perceptions of older adults, and supporting student success by deepening engagement with learning.  

image plus text 0000 Jay Moss

Their final student presentations were rooted firmly in the sciences, in the form of traditional poster presentations like the one seen here. These highly analytical documents do a great job at presenting the project, breaking down the methodology, and provide a good summation of the study’s key findings. After all, certainty in findings is a prized commodity in the sciences. In this case, one of the key findings that emerged was the unique importance of remaining creative, whether it be through painting, sewing, writing, or some other activity. Though creativity certainly stood out as important to the aging, it wasn’t clear why this is true. Creativity meant something different to each of the subjects.   But whereas this lack of ambiguity is valued in the sciences, it can be problematic in the arts. 

image plus text 0002 Elsa Goolde

This idea of an unclear intersection btwn creativity and aging inspired me to explore it in a less analytical, somewhat more ambiguous way. I began by tracking down working artists over the age of 65; people who had been creating art their whole lives in some form or another, and were still creating late in life. The basic premise is this: the artists sit for their portraits, and as I take pictures, I interview them.

Then I began exploring amateur artists: people over the age of 65 who took up art as a kind of hobby late in life, asking them to discuss their processes, and what creativity meant for them. But the images alone couldn’t capture this intersection of age and creativity. I needed to include their words.  I’m a graphic designer, and naturally it occurred to me that the things these people were saying – both professional and amateurs alike – brought much needed context to the portrait.  

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The result is a developing series of portraits paired with text. Each portrait is an attempt to crystalize something unique about the subject’s creative spirit. the accompanying text – a subsection of the subject’s discussion during the interview – attempts to contextualize the portrait and anchor the overarching theme of this series. 

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No one portrait, regardless of the artistic level or age of the subject, is given preference over another, in an attempt to better democratize aging and its relationship to the creative urge. 

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Rather than framing the process of aging as a gradual decline, Through the Lens of Age examines creativity and artistic expression as a means of renewal, i.e. how self-expression can enrich self-worth. Through the Lens of Age was exhibited at the BronxArtSpace on October 25-26, 2017. See below for images from the exhibit:

 (Special thanks to the Riverdale YM & YWHA for help in the production of this work!). 

Gallery of Portraits